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Alpine Landscapes by Fritz Engelhardt

Author: Elke Gennrich/Lehmann-Brauns 

Welcome to the exhibition devoted to the Bonn landscape artist Fritz Engelhardt on the theme of "Portraits of the Alps." As a title for his oil paintings and watercolors, one could have just as easily have chosen "A View of the Alps" or "The Pull of the Mountains." This, by the way, is how the Vienna Art Gallery in collaboration with the Krems Art Gallery dubbed a comprehensive exhibition project in1997/98 that covered the range of themes from the Romantic to the contemporary period. Here it was clearly shown that after 200 years of conquering the mountains aesthetically, for artists the Alps still represent or keep representing a challenge that today they confront with varying approaches, media and techniques. So Fritz Engelhardt is hardly plowing a lonely furrow with his painting, and with his natural sense of the sublime carried over into his art, he belongs to the contemporary "Romantics."

Biographical details

Fritz Engelhardt, born in 1935, is a self-taught painter. He comes from Korbach in Hessen and grew up attached to nature. His father was a typesetter. His flair for drawing and painting was quickly discovered and promoted at school. During his vocational training as a shop window designer in Kassel from 1951 to 1954, he attended an arts and crafts school and afterwards worked at an advertising agency for two years. In 1956, Engelhardt becomes a soldier with the German army in Andernach and the same year is sent to a course in Sonthofen. He sees the Alps for the first time and is so impressed and delighted that from this point on he spends all his free time, weekends, and holidays in the Alps. He undertakes mountaineering expeditions during which he does watercolors and takes photographs. During the 1960s, Engelhardt starts painting mountain landscapes in oil as well. In the meantime the Hardthöhe (Ministry of Defense) has become his workplace. He has lived in the Bonn area since 1961 and since 1982 in Bad Godesberg.

Watercolor paintings

After his retirement in 1988, Engelhardt devotes his exclusive attention to painting and takes courses in painting nudes and portraits at the Bonn adult education center. In 1996, he has his first exhibition of watercolors, which can also be seen here. Peaks are moved into the foreground. We have monumental blocks, cones or points, whose contours are sharply set off against the sky and whose massiveness is structured with linear brush strokes in the alternating rhythm of exposed layers of rock. The mountain behemoths or clusters of peaks isolated in one section of the picture, placed in the middle or slightly moved from the middle, display the essence of the portrait. They achieve depth of expression through the spontaneous style of painting, the powerfully established structures over the spatially illustrated mountain forms and a vividness of color that is intensified in relation to the natural model. The intensive light of the rising or setting sun colors the sky violet, turquoise or deep blue and makes the mountains appear in shades of ochre and orange. Sometimes in the watercolor paintings, the valleys, slopes or meadows in the foreground soften the harshness of the distant towering mountains. That is when the painting style comes closer to the natural model.

Oil paintings from the year 2000

In the large format oil paintings that are produced suddenly and in rapid succession in 2000, the expressionist painting style of the watercolors gives way to stylization, and in the compositions the colossal mountain peaks often move into the background. In front of them are arrayed the horizontal layering of rock masses, rocky beds, fissured precipices, the icy deserts of the glaciers, debris. Sometimes a quiet stretch of water forms the foreground as a reflective surface; once we find a strip of grass full of yellow globe flowers. The very wide landscape formats convey a panoramic impression of the expansiveness combined with the majestic size of the mountains. It is important to stress that when the natural mountain landscapes are rendered in stylized forms and brush stroke technique, the topography of each landscape is precisely preserved. Through the stylization of the structural elements, nature as found in the mountains is contrasted with the real world, idealized. Among the painters Engelhardt modeled himself on, above all the great alpine painter Edward Theodore Compton, Ferdinand Hodler is given great importance after Giovanni Segantini. He says he is particularly interested in Caspar David Friedrich’s "The Ice Sea," a veritable mountain range of enormous ice floes whose bizarre turquoise forms in front of the dark blue sky have a powerful suggestive effect.

 Magic and sublimity

Engelhardt’s large format Alpine landscapes achieve a magical aspect with stylization and strong colors. Pervaded by crystal clear thin mountain air, they usually display a perfectly clear sky, against whose strong or deep blue the contours of the mountain peaks and crests stand out in glistening snow white or intensive blue-green or glowing brown-orange. No living creature can be seen, no human, no skier, no ski lift, no garbage, no environmental pollution. Engelhardt has wiped out all traces of tourism, driven by the Rousseauian yearning for closeness to nature in the solitude of the mountains. The artist has allowed the Alps to become frozen in their clear beauty, to lock their sublimity in timelessness in the light of an eternal summer and to return to them back their lost, original seclusion. Raised to the level of the still life, "nature morte," like gigantic pieces of jewelry the gleaming peaks of the Great Litzner and Great Seehorn rest under a white sky, doubling their ornamental beauty in the lake’s mirror.

Painting style and colors

If one looks at the oil paintings from up close, their still life nature fades and the structures of spellbound, motionless nature emerge as wildly turbulent, dense, overlapping spontaneously applied brush strokes that lead in one direction like the lines of force in a magnetic field. Their variegated, fine-tuned colors strike a chord with which the crowning sky blue, painted as a clear expanse, finally harmonizes powerfully. Engelhardt prepares color sketches for every painting. That is, in a pencil sketch he notes which colors he has chosen. For instance, for the sky a mixture of cobalt blue, Prussian blue and coelin blue. For the zenith a little cobalt violet; then for the mountain massif reddish Naples yellow, light English red and medium cadmium yellow and so on.

The long road to the painting

The creation of an easel painting in the studio is preceded by a direct, stirring impression of nature. Before Engelhardt starts off on a mountaineering tour – sometimes stimulated by pictures he has seen on television or from reading a book - he has studied the literature, guide books and maps of the particular Alpine region, whether it is located in Germany, Switzerland, Italy or Austria. He also receives information from the Alps Association, of which he is of course a member. In his rucksack, which is always within easy reach in the cellar and is always completely packed, there are a sketchbook, watercolors and a camera. On the mountain hikes planned with military precision, Engelhardt prefers routes that head in the direction of the sun. Then as soon as the eagle-eyed observer of nature is gripped by a view, a mood, a certain light or motif, he captures this intensive impression and occasionally takes a photograph. At home then, from the many sketches that preserve the freshness of the stirring moment and which can bring back the felt fascination, he carefully selects the visual motif, using a photograph as a memory aid. The long road of the preparation process now opens up into the decisive phase that Engelhardt has been waiting for with great excitement – his interpretation of the experience of nature with oil on canvas. Fritz Engelhardt found his own path to art described in a recent comment by Günther Uecker: "Yearning gains power over me and drives me on. But for me, homecoming is the actual goal."

Elke Gennrich/Lehmann-Brauns

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